Tuesday, February 28, 2012

In Person

at Two Writing Teachers!
As someone who grew up an avid reader and writer, I've always felt strongly about the ability of writing to connect people. (My one little word for this year!)  I dive so deeply into books that I wind up feeling like I truly know the writer and characters, as if they're my friends.  (I also wind up completely oblivious to the world around me, but that's another story!)  And being a writer as well, I know from the other end the way that writing expresses the true self.  Words flow up from out of this deep place in my soul and tumble out of my head onto the paper.  I read and change and read and change in a flurry of thoughts and feelings.  Then, where once was nothing, there is a little piece of me.  Sometimes messy, sometimes pretty, but always ME.

Blogging has taken this connection to a new level -- now, I can share my connections with the writer and my readers can leave their thoughts and feelings for me!  Nowhere is this more true than the Slice of Life community.  After reading the same people's snippets of life week after week and engaging in dialogue with them about our writing and our lives, I really do know them.  (Husband makes fun of me for talking about you all like you're really my friends. However, I know you are!)  Actually, due to the power of writing, I'm sure I  know some "slicers" much better than many of the people I see every day in "real life".

This past weekend at the Dublin Literacy Conference, I was fortunate enough to turn a blogging connection into "real-life".  I got to meet the incredible Ruth Ayres in person!  Not only that, but I got to learn from her firsthand at two breakout sessions.  This was a huge deal, since she's basically my blogging hero.  I wouldn't even have a blog if I hadn't been inspired by Two Writing Teachers last summer!  Moreover, I have grown so much as a writer and teacher due to the Slice of Life community.

One of the highlights of my day was when Ruth asked during one of the sessions if anybody had participated in Slices of Life. When I spoke up, she asked about my blog and said she remembered it, right in front of everyone!  Knowing there would be an autograph session at lunch, I had printed out the green SOLS logo at home.  I was a little embarrassed to ask Ruth to sign it instead of her book, but she liked it!

As soon as I get a frame, it's going up on the wall of our computer room to inspire me on those hard days!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Dublin Lit Conference

Yesterday I was fortunate to attend the Dublin Literacy Conference for the first time.  (I was also completely worn out and wanted to go to bed by 8:00, but a nice, happy kind of worn out!)

When the alarm went off at 7:00, I was wondering why I signed up to do this on a Saturday during the school year.  However, by 8:30, while I was singing "I love my white shoes" with Eric Litwin and James Dean (and an auditorium full of excited teachers), I was already glad I had come.  (I'll admit, I thought that part was going to be silly at first, but by halfway through Pete the Cat, I was entranced.)

 Next, we were treated to an amazing keynote speech by Donalyn Miller, the Book Whisperer.  It was one of the most energizing presentations I've heard in a long time.  You can view her presentation here, but I'll share some of my favorite highlights from her talk:
  • "Boys want the same thing every reader wants -- to find themselves in books." (Donalyn) -- This seemed so profound because there is so much talk about trying to get boys to read, as if boys naturally don't want to read.  It's not that they don't want to, it's just that they don't want to read girly books that aren't interesting to them!  I bet if all the "classic" books were about war, monsters, and robots, we'd be moaning that girls didn't want to read!
  • Seating kids according to the kind of books they like to read will help create reading communities where they naturally share & encourage each other to try new books.  -- I had never thought of this, and it seems so simple!  What an easy, natural way to get kids excited about reading!
  • Set high expectations -- she wants her kids to read 40 books a year! Many exceed that, and the ones that don't get there still read way more than they ever have before.  -- The numbers of books her students read were ASTOUNDING, and then I thought back to how I'd read over a hundred books every summer as a kid.  Why do teachers expect kids to read so few books during the school year, when reading is so essential to learning?  This definitely made me re-think how I'd approach reading with my students if I ever teach ESL.
  • She shared TONS of great suggestions for making kids WANT to read, including:
    •  making reading the social norm by giving kids lots of time to read in class -- This seems like such a basic thing to do, and yet it seems like it would be so easy to say there's not enough class time to have kids spend it on reading.  I can definitely see how kids would want to read more if they see that's what everyone is doing!
    • lots of different ways to have peers recommend books to each other -- I had heard and thought of many of these, but there were a few new ideas and it was really neat to see them in action and hear how they had really worked for her students.
  • "Reading is the inhale, writing is the exhale." (Donalyn) -- I especially loved this statement because I have lived it personally.  I know I would not be the writer I am today if I had not been such an avid reader.

Later in the day, I got to attend not one, but TWO breakout sessions with the amazing Ruth Ayres from Two Writing Teachers!  In the first one, she shared some great thoughts about celebrating writers by focusing on the student writer, not the piece of writing itself.  I definitely got a new perspective on celebrating more often and helping students encourage each other.  In the second, she showed us how to create and implement effective mini-lessons, with several great videos of her own mini-lessons as examples!  I think the biggest revelation for me was to pull the kids into a meeting area for mini-lessons, even with older kids, to get the feeling of "coach to team" or "writer-to-writer".  I'm thinking about trying this even with my Spanish classes, when I do mini-lessons with them.  The practical steps and video examples she shared were so helpful and inspiring.  (Plus, I got to meet my blogging hero in person!)

The afternoon keynote was author Sharon Draper, who was extremely dynamic and passionate about her books. She shared some parts of her books with us, as well as some sweet, funny, and heartbreaking emails from young readers about her books.  My favorite part of her speech was a story about how she visited another country and talked with a man who commented that we Americans sure test our students a lot.  He told her, If we want an elephant to grow, we feed it.  We don’t measure it.

Friday, February 24, 2012

¿Pero un año entero sin el español?

at Latinaish.com!
Hoy mis estudiantes del 6o grado terminaron sus proyectos del zoológico.  (Dibujan sus zoológicos ideales y luego escriben sobre los animales.)  Mientras trabajaban, una chica muy agradable y dulce me dijo  -- No ví la clase del español en la hoja de elegir clases para el año que viene.
-- No... ahora no habrán las clases del 6o ni 7o grado...
-- ¿Pero, por qué?
-- Pues, la gente no aprobó los nuevos impuestos para las escuelas, entonces... pues, muchas clases se cortarán. Es que no hay dinero y los recortes son necesarios... --

Miradas muy desmayadas entre la chiquita y sus compañeras.  Otra chica me preguntó -- ¿Pero, qué hará Ud.?  -- Bueno, no sé.  Hasta ahora no nos han dicho nada.  Probablemente enseñaré en el colegio, pero.. pues, vamos a ver. -- Todas miraban hacia abajo.

La primera chica no quería creer las noticias.  -- Pero, si no puedo continuar con el español, ¿cómo lograré ser fluente? -- Pues, todavía puedes tomar clases del español durante el 8o grado y todos los años del colegio, si quieres... -- Sí, pero ¿un año entero sin el español? -- Con una mueca y un suspiro.

Qué bonito ver a mis estudiantes con tantas ganas de aprender el español.  ¡Pero qué lástima los recortes!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012


Last week, I was walking down the hallway on the way to lunch when I passed one of my former students.  One of those students you joke that you wish you had 10 of: sweet, cheerful, hard-working, enthusiastic.  Last year, he would just randomly let out these delightful little bursts of excitement in the middle of class: "I love Spanish!"  "Your Notebook files are the best!"  Not many 7th grade boys just say stuff like that in front of everyone, even if they are having fun!

"Hi, P!" What a great kid. "Hi, Mrs. M!" Instead of walking on, he turns toward me and stops me at the side of the hallway. Bright eyes, earnest smile, cheerful as ever. "I just wanted to tell you how much your class last year helped me get ready for Spanish I.  I was so prepared for this year because of you!  It was really such a great class and I'm so glad I took it!"

I want to squeal with joy and skip down the hallway.

My classes are often on the small side, with less-"academic", more well-established programs (we only got 7th grade Spanish 3 years ago) like art, tech, etc. squeezing kids' already-too-tight schedules.  Together with a colleague who teaches at another school, I basically created the 6th & 7th grade programs from scratch.  I hand-make almost all of the activities we do in class.  I'm so proud of my programs and the learning that takes place in them, but sometimes it's easy to get discouraged about class sizes, being made to feel like "just" related arts, or being split between 3 buildings and yet belonging to none.

On top of everything, I found out a couple weeks ago that 6th & 7th grade Spanish are both being cut, due to the levy failure.  (Along with many other drastic cuts, all devastating to student opportunities.)  All that work, my heart and soul and sweat and tears, swept away because of money and politics.

I tried to tell myself that it was all worth it, that I had helped 3 years' worth of 6th & 7th graders discover Spanish, prepare themselves for future language study, look at the world from a new perspective, gain tolerance, learn new tech tools, and have fun while doing it all.  And I knew it was true, that those kids had new skills and new attitudes they wouldn't have without me.  But it was hard to believe myself.

It took one of them less than 30 seconds in the hallway to prove it to me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

One Enchanted Evening

slices at Two Writing Teachers
"Shazam!" I joked to my husband as we walked through the doors into... a fairy tale?  Heaven?  Tolkein's Rivendell?

Ethereal blue and purpley globes of light seemed to float on each table in the semi-darkness.  Brighter glints of blueish-white light sparkled like stars above and around the globes.  Farther up, the perimeter walls were covered in huge projection screens, each cycling through myriad images: John Glenn climbing into Friendship 7, President Kennedy watching the launch on one of those boxy old tv sets, fantastic space scenes, John and Annie's wedding picture... We were surrounded by Glenn's incredible life!  Most of all, we were immersed in that historic day, exactly 50 years ago, when he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Pulling out the camera, I was relieved to see other people doing the same.  Maybe we're not as out of place as I feel, considering we never would've even been able to afford the faculty/staff discount tickets if my parents hadn't bought them for us as a present!  
It was like being in an enchanted land!
the program cover

Upon opening the program that was lying on my seat, I almost let a squeak escape from my mouth.  I squeezed Husband's elbow.  "Honey, NEIL ARMSTRONG is going to be here!  He's the opening speaker!"  Sure, I had half-jokingly mentioned yesterday that maybe he would come, as we speculated on the fancy people who might be in attendance.  After all, he is friends with John Glenn.  But he hardly EVER appears in public!  I can't believe we get to see and listen to Neil Armstrong!!!  Husband and I were practically squirming with excitement.  (Just seeing John Glenn should've been exciting enough, but we've both been lucky enough to meet him several times!)

The event began with a cute skit re-creating a classroom of children about to watch Glenn's flight 50 years ago. (An experience that's one of my mom's most vivid childhood memories.)  The room darkened as real footage of lift-off filled the screen, complete with red backlighting on the walls as the rocket boosters lit and a deep, vibrating audio rumble that we could really feel.  We were transported back to Cape Canaveral in 1962!

Armstrong & his own moon footprint
Then, a fantastic video trailer about Neil Armstrong... and there he was, walking up to the podium!  Sharp, funny, and heart-felt, his speech to honor his friend was mesmerizing.  (Well, the fact that we were even in the same room as him was mesmerizing!)  Next, a delicious dinner and friendly chit-chat with our tablemates, surrounded by more projected slideshows of pictures and facts about Glenn.  (Did you know he flew 149 combat missions in WWII and Korea?)

As we enjoyed our own little chocolate Earth cakes with 3 candy orbits around them, keynote speaker Captain Mark Kelly (commander of the last Shuttle mission) inspired us all with a mix of stories about his own astronaut career and his wife's incredible strength and tenacity.
dessert! so cute!

To top it off, a cute Q&A with John and Annie, led by an OSU student.  Not only do they have amazing lives separately -- John's Friendship 7 and Shuttle flights and career as a Senator, plus Annie's work to overcome stuttering and help others do the same -- but they are one of the most incredible living love stories around.  At one point, they were talking about their engagement (John said he had $150 and he spent $125 of it on Annie's ring), and Annie kissed the ring and held it out for John to do the same.  And he did, right in front of everyone.  Even in their 90's, they're just like two high school sweethearts madly in love.  Beautiful.

one of the slides that cycled through during the event

Unlike most of the audience, Husband is lucky enough to get to see John Glenn every few weeks at work (and even help him!) -- a dream come true for someone who's still a space-loving little boy at heart.  Still, it was so special to be a part of this incredible celebration of his hero, especially when some of the people leading the celebration were heroes themselves!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

First Valentine's Day

slices at Two Writing Teachers!
I hate mornings.  This morning I started to growl and grumble as soon as I heard the alarm's cheery little wake-up song.  However, my attitude was changed almost immediately today, because Husband gave me a big hug right away.  His sweet voice said, "Happy Valentine's Day!" and I smiled in spite of my grumpiness.  Even though it was dark, I could feel his eyes looking at me with his most adoring gaze.

Valentine's Day.  Our holiday.  The day that started everything...

It's a Friday afternoon and I'm a freshman at Ohio State.  I just got back to the dorm from class and I'm throwing clothes into my duffel bag.  My mom will be here any minute to pick me up for a weekend at home.  I know she has Valentine's treats waiting for me!  Just like she does every holiday, she'll tell me that I'm her best present.

I got a few Valentines and candy from some of the girls in our suite, which was cute.  However, I'm boyfriend-less as usual and tired of it.  Sick of Valentine's Days and dances and myriad other events, always without a date. I prayed so hard last night for God to finally give me a boy to love, who loves me too.  Whatever, at least I'm spending the weekend at home.

Suddenly, a girl from a couple suites over walks into the common room with a card and a giant cookie, which she hands to me.  Wow, that's a little bigger than most people were giving out... "Thanks, that's so nice of you!" I tell her enthusiastically.  Guess I should've given out Valentines. I didn't know so many girls would!  "It's not from me..." she grins evasively.  "Open the card..."

Weird.... Who's it from then?  I tear open the envelope and start to read.  A sweet, cute card with a sweet, cute note inside.  Messy cursive that's now so familiar to me.  It's from the boy in the next suite over who's also in the Freshman Engineering Honors program and has had almost the same schedule as me all year.  We walk to our classes together and eat lunch and dinner together everyday.  While rather dorky, he's sweet and funny and a good friend.  He likes me!  I didn't know he liked me like that!  I can feel color rushing to my cheeks and this giddy happy feeling washes over me.

He's so shy that he's hiding back in his room, not knowing what I'd think of his Valentine's gift.  Almost light-headed, I run out of our common room and next door, with the card still in my hand.  He looks up almost fearfully as I throw my arms around him and give him a big hug.  A boy likes me!  He gave me a Valentine's present!

I don't really know what to think, don't really know what will happen now.  Are we going to be boyfriend and girlfriend?  My mom's here to pick me up and I have to go.  She teases me about getting a card from a boy...

And now he wakes me up in the morning with a hug and a sweet smile.  Prayers do come true.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fantastic Flying Friends

slices at Two Writing Teachers!
I've always loved imagining that the world around me (animals, objects, everything) is alive.  My husband and I went to see Beauty and the Beast in 3D, and I told him that I wish I lived in an enchanted castle like that.  (He made fun of me, of course!)  I mean, how great would it be if you were surrounded by friendly pots, pans, shelves, closets, etc. that all talked to you and sang songs to cheer you up!  :-)

Possibly reading my mind, the librarian at School #1 recently sent out an email recommending a short film to all the staff.  After putting it off for several days, I finally got around to watching it, and all I can say is that I wish I'd watched it right away!  This short, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore", is AMAZING!  What if books were friendly creatures that invited you into their lives with open pages?  Watch the film to find out!  (It's just under 15 min but well worth it!)

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore from Moonbot Studios on Vimeo.

I love how the film depicts books changing a broken, black-and-white world into full-color, renewed life.  It's beautiful how things turn to color as soon as the person touches a book.  I love the idea of an author flying to someone in need of a book, starting them off on their powerful journey to discovery through books.

 I love the friendly way the books encourage the character to write his book after he's spent time with them. (This makes me think of Tuesdays when I'm worn out and uninspired -- after reading a few other people's slices, all of a sudden words are brewing in my brain!)

I love how he repairs the old, tattered book and discovers that its story is just as magnificent as any newer book -- and maybe even better!  Sometimes I feel like so much attention gets paid to great new books, especially in schools, that we forget that older classics can still speak to kids too!

Throughout the film, I love the depiction of books as friends: they hold people's hands, they react emotionally, they WANT to be loved by someone.  This is such a beautiful representation of the way a reader can interact with a book.  It makes me think of all the old friends I love going back to, whose pages are yellow and wrinkly from being turned so many times.  Little House on the Prairie, Emily of New Moon, Cheaper by the Dozen, A Tale of Two Cities, and so many others with characters that feel like family and words that inspire me and envelop me with comfort.

What was your favorite moment in the film?  How did it remind you of your own journey as a reader (or writer)?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fue muy raro

hosted by Latinaish
El sábado pasado mi esposo, mi mamá y yo fuimos a un partido de baloncesto de mis estudiantes del 7o grado.  Tres de las cinco jugadoras que empezaron el partido son estudiantes mías.  Me divertí mucho ver a estas niñas fuera de mi clase. (¡Conecté en una manera nueva con ellas!)  Una chica seria e introvertida se convirtió en una jugadora rabiosa y determinada, con cara fruncida.  Otra chica bien estudiosa marcó muchos puntos, siempre con la lengua fuera de la boca, como siempre hago yo cuando intento algo difícil.  Y la tercera niña, muy pequeña y siempre agradable, ¡fue el base del equipo!  Ella se soltó a llorar cuando tuvo que dejar el partido en los tiempos extras porque cometió cinco faltas.  Perdieron en los tiempos extras, pero se alegraron que yo había venido a ver su partido.

Algún día esta semana, otra chica del equipo (que no está en mi clase ahora, pero que enseñé en la primaria) me dijo:
    -- ¡Vino Ud. a nuestro partido!
    -- Sí, Uds. jugaron con muchas ganas...
    -- ¡Y se sentó Ud. cerca de mis padres!  Fue muy raro.
    -- Ay, ¿de veras?  No conozco a sus padres...
    -- ¡Y su mamá habló con mi mamá!  ¡Fue MUY RARO!

Qué chistoso es el mundo desde el punto de vista de una niña del 7o grado.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

SpiderScribe: my new favorite web tool for students

In honor of Digital Learning Day, I thought I'd post about a new web tool I tried with my 6th graders this week.      I read about SpiderScribe on Free Tech 4 Teachers, my FAVORITE site for finding new tech ideas.  Richard always does a fantastic job of describing the tech tool and then explaining possible educational uses for it.

I was searching for a new collaborative mind-mapping tool for a project I had typically done with Popplet, because although Popplet is fantastic and worked fine for the project last spring, it hasn't been playing well with our school network this year.  It's sooo glitchy at school now that I just can't have my kids use it anymore.  We used Wallwisher this fall and it was fine, but had some limitations for what we were trying to do.  So I was super excited when I found Richard's post about 7 mind-mapping tools and discovered SpiderScribe, which is just perfect for this project.

Project background: my 6th graders work in groups to research several holidays and historical events for a Spanish-speaking country they've chosen.  Each student researches 2 holidays and 2 events, and they write the dates in Spanish.  They then use a collaborative web tool of their choice to create 2 "timelines" (not necessarily linear) to display their holidays and events in chronological order.  (This time, they could choose between SpiderScribe and Wallwisher, but everybody chose SpiderScribe.)

(student SpiderScribe project exported as jpeg -- see below for links to view more projects larger!)
To begin, one student in the group created a "map" (blank canvas) and added the other group members to it.  They could then all add boxes with their information, pictures, Google maps, and more.  They could see each other's changes in real time and modify each other's work.  SpiderScribe was easy and fun for the students to use, and worked almost flawlessly except a small few glitches that were quickly fixed. (By the way, their tech support is speedy and very helpful -- great for an educational tool!)

Check out a few examples at the links below:  (These are real student work so obviously not perfect!)





Notice how the students were able to be creative with their layouts and designs.  I wish you could have seen them collaborating online and face-to-face at the same time as they worked -- it was exciting to watch!  Many groups finished their projects in class, but students who needed to work at home were able to do so quite easily.

The last step of the project is that each group posted their project link to a discussion forum on our class Moodle page.  For homework (over several days), each student has to view at least 2 other groups' projects and then leave high-quality comments for the groups in the forum.  (To set this up, I have a thread for each group, where they post their link and the classmates reply with comments.)

How have you used SpiderScribe or another real-time collaborative web tool with your students?  What did you think of my students' projects?